Ayushmann Khurrana on Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan: 'This film is targeted for the average Indian homophobe'
Ayushmann Khurrana explains why Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan has been designed as a family entertainer, aimed at penetrating the lowest common denominator.
Ayushmann Khurrana is back with yet another thought-provoking subject. This time, he takes on the theme of homosexuality in Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan. Jitendra Kumar aka Jeetu, who is famous for his roles in comedy sketches of The Viral Fever and web show Kota Factory, plays his love interest in the film.
It follows the story of Khurrana, who is open about his love for another man. When the parents of Jeetu's character do not accept the relationship, Khurrana sets out to convince them. Khurrana reiterates Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan is a mainstream film that would take on LGBTQIA+ issues head-on.
“While being responsible and sensitive, we have kept a commercial approach towards the film so that it reaches the masses. It is not a love story between two boys. It is the reaction of the family when they come to know that their son is gay. We have seen a lot of films that have dealt with homosexuality in the recent past, but they’ve mostly been parallel cinema, or for festivals. Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan will be the one that will penetrate the masses. Target audience of the film is an average Indian homophobe. More than emotional, it is a comedy film. Humour always opens up people, and builds relationship with audience. If we intellectualise and make it more emotional then it won’t reach our target audience. Going forward, an emotional pure love story between homosexuals may get made but this is not that. Of course, we have given a very front-footed film about two boys but this is a popcorn entertainment film,” says Khurrana, whose belief was reaffirmed when he spotted a gay couple kissing in a parking lot while exiting a mall after a late-hour shoot of Dream Girl.
“We don’t want the film to cater to only those who are standing with the homosexuals because then it will be a pure multiplex film, where you already have people in support of homosexuals. We want to reach out to those who are against homosexuals, and for that, you have to give them humour and a commercial texture to the film, and penetrate more in such centres. They will come for entertainment, and take the message and go,” Khurrana adds.
“And it is a misapprehension that an emotional film is more sensitive than a comedy. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron is the biggest example,” adds writer-director of the film, Hitesh Kewalya. “It is high time that we take comedy seriously. Comedy is not halka (light); it is heavy. Comedy is a potent tool to talk about the right things in a non-serious manner but it is talking seriousness. We have said it in the most simple language that the audience understands. Talking about erectile dysfunction was difficult but today when people see a biscuit (a Parle-G biscuit limply falling into a cup of tea, used as a metaphor in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan), they understand, and they smile and talk about it without any embarrassment,” says Kewalya, the co-writer of Shubh Mangal Saavdhan.
The decriminalisation of parts of Section 377 helped the makers to some extent in developing the content of the film.“We had already written 70 to 80 percent of the film when the repealment happened. It’s just that our approach would have been little different had the judgement not been reversed especially when it came to showing the kiss (between Khurrana and Jeetu) because without this judgement, it would have been illegal to show it, and CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification) would have definitely cut the shot. But we didn’t show it for sensationalism or for any voyeuristic pleasure," says Hitesh. "Evolution is happening. Every generation is getting better. I am from Punjab University. Even I was not very open about the idea of homosexuality. Over there, we were not allowed to do gay pride by the dean but after the amendment, toilets were made for transgenders, and even gay pride has started over there,” adds Khurrana.
'Observation' and 'empathy' were the two key requirements, says the actor, when asked about prepping for the film. “Well, I did read a book called Lie With Me by Philippe Besson. It is about love between two boys. But preparation was more about wanting to know about them, and to understand their struggle. You will look at that boy with same love who you have loved, whether you are heterosexual or homosexual. One had to try and understand their situation. It is basically a human right issue, that you want to love someone but you are not getting that. Every person has a right to live life as per their terms. He is not coming in the way of others. He just wants to love someone, whether boy or girl. What difference does it make to anybody? So why isn’t he getting that acceptance? Kissing is an expression of love between two people, and as an actor, you have to perform with full shiddat (dedication) to make it look believable that these two men are in love, and wherever there is empathy, it is possible,” he further adds.
While Khurrana has so far played the victim, facing tough situations in his previous films like Bala, Badhaai Ho or Dum Laga Ke Haisha, here, we will see him take charge and make things happen. “They had given me a choice of picking one of the characters. I chose this one because I didn’t want to be a victim anymore. I wanted to be an instigator. I play this guy who is more confident about his sexuality, and Jitendra's character is still in the closet. He is the one who comes out, and fights the family. It was a conscious decision to play this character,” says Khurrana.
Adds Hitesh, “I knew Ayushmann will be part of this film some way or the other. Both my characters are very different from each other. When I narrated, we gave Ayushmann the choice of picking whichever role he wants to but in my mind, I was hoping he picks what he did finally. He was confused because both the characters are equally strong and very different in their approach and manifestation, but both are endearing, strong and heartwarming characters. I didn’t want to influence him as an actor. In fact, it was validation to my writing if he was confused even for a minute that which role he wants to do. We get to see a different Ayushmann. Hence, I was hoping he picks this role.”
Ever since Khurrana made his debut in Bollywood, he has always managed to push the envelope by picking one tricky role after another. He played a sperm donor in Vicky Donor, a man prematurely balding in Bala, a man dealing with erectile dysfunction in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, to now playing a queer role in the reboot. "The idea is to give something new to people. I grasp a film as an audience, and not as a star. I don’t think like a star, what will be my entry point or this will be my punchline. That is a very myopic way of looking. I will always love to do a film, which I would love to watch. Many actors feel that public will like it so let me do it. But we must ourselves become the audience first, and then you can decide. This film is relevant enough. We are ready for it,” he says.
Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, produced by Aanand L Rai's Colour Yellow Productions and Bhushan Kumar's T-Series Films, is slated to release this Friday on 21 February.
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